Scientists at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System and Tulane University have announced a breakthrough in research that could lead to safer treatment of pain. They have developed a new drug with less risk for addiction and overdose compared to currently available opioid medications. The new drug also shortens time to recovery from pain.

Called ZH853, the new drug was developed by James Zadina, Ph.D., the director of the neuroscience laboratory at the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System and a professor at Tulane University School of Medicine. The goal was to avoid some of the most troubling side effects of currently available opioid medications. Morphine, for example, can cause depressed breathing, which can lead to death.

A main concern when treating pain with opioids is the potential for misuse or addiction. In earlier studies, Zadina and his colleagues found that rats given morphine showed drug-seeking behaviors, while the rats given ZH853 did not. Morphine can also cause pain symptoms to last longer, enabling acute pain to become chronic.

“A drug that prevents the transition from acute to chronic relapsing pain would represent a true breakthrough in drug development for pain management,” said Zadina.

In a paper published last week, Zadina and his colleague, Amy Feehan Ph.D., of Tulane University, showed that ZH853 was as effective as morphine at relieving pain in rats. The results also showed that morphine, by aggravating immune function, increased the length of time the subjects felt pain. ZH853, on the other hand, reduced the length of time the subjects experienced pain, indicating anti-inflammatory effects.

“The results of these studies indicate the potential of this drug to be safer than morphine,” explained Zadina.

Producing a medication for pain that is safe and effective while unlikely to be abused could save many of the tens of thousands of lives that are lost each year to opioid overdoses. Further research is needed before ZH853 can be prescribed for pain, including clinical trials in human subjects. Trials could start within two years.

VA’s funding of research to develop of ZH853 shows our commitment to safely treating pain in Veterans. Over the past six years, VA’s Opioid Safety Initiative has reduced opioid dispensing more than 50 percent. Whenever possible, health care providers are using alternatives to prescribing opioids, such as acupuncture, yoga and chiropractic medicine. Patient safety is the main priority of VA health care. Innovative treatments and pioneering research will continue to improve health care so that more Veterans can live free from chronic pain.

Phil WallsPhil Walls is a public affairs specialist with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in New Orleans Louisiana. He is a Marine Corps Veteran (1999-2003).

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Published on Jun. 11, 2019

Estimated reading time is 2.3 min.

Views to date: 312


  1. Guy seaton July 6, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    OK. No time to wait! Chronic pain off VA opioids equal street opioids

  2. Jessy naija June 20, 2019 at 10:51 am

    The ZH853 should be made available even after trial.

  3. Celegacy June 18, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Hmmmm, I really love the discussion on this post.
    Nice one VA

  4. Leola Harris June 15, 2019 at 10:53 am

    I was taken off my pain medication abruptly and left to endure the pain or whatever. VA did not care that I was a chronic pain management veteran, just that they coplied with whatever was being mandated. I ask one question, what do you think happens to the excruciating pain that is controlled by the opiates once they are stopped? Answer: it is still there, only It becomes more complex and more debilitating because there is no relief. 3 to 4 years from now is a very long time to suffer and this drug is not for long term care. My ability to have a sense of life has greatly depreciated.

  5. Suzanne DeMichele June 14, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    It is called “Quality of Life”, what have the test rats said regarding that?!? If your course of treatment has been established and effective for over 3 years DO NOT think for one minute you get to play test bunny with me, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING SIDE EFFECTS & INTERACTIONS with all of the other meds I must take daily as well…!

    • Tucker Rain June 14, 2019 at 9:31 pm

      Just admit you’re an addict and love free drugs. You’ll lose in the end so stop now.

  6. Mike C Sheldon June 14, 2019 at 11:39 am

    After being on opioids since the mid 90’s, at this point I would urinate on a sparkplug if I thought it could take the place of these horrible drugs. Damaged back and knees are a fact of life and I’m not getting any younger. I would love to try this new attempt at ridding us of this monsterous cycle of withdrawals trying to end it.

    • John LaRocque June 16, 2019 at 8:13 am

      Mike, I was having intractable pain after back surgery. I got off the opioids and tramadol really quickly, but that was a rough road down. Recently I have been using crowd Mrado and it works as well as Oxicontin and tramadol. It has a mildly stimulating affect , About like a cup of coffee or two. I have stopped taking Myloxicam and Tramadol and still have astounding, amazing pain reduction. It’s cheap.

  7. Howard Edbauer June 14, 2019 at 10:22 am

    Patient safety?? What a joke…great you cut opioids by 50%……at what cost….more suicides because we can’t get the pain relief we need? Cutting off opioids cold turkey is safe after 13 years? Respond to me. I dare you. No compassion…no help….equals no hope.

  8. Ronald E Nesler June 13, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    I checked with the lab rats, they say VA is LYING.

  9. Janet S Flowers June 13, 2019 at 12:34 am

    I agree with majority of above comments. However, the article states that rats being given morphine had “addiction seeking behaviors” whereas rats on ZH853 did not… Well, my question is: Did these rats that had “addiction seeking behaviors” have chronic, or intractable, and/or high-impact pain?? If not, OF COURSE they would have “addiction seeking behaviors”! If they were in chronic, intractable and/or high-impact chronic pain, they would only *get relief* from the pain with the morphine– without it, I bet you those rats would just be LAYING THERE, Moaning and Groaning in pain like us high-impact, intractable and/or chronic pain patients are Every Single Minute of Every Day (mostly in our BEDS Daily) due to the reduction in our opioid pain medications!
    On the other hand, if the rats that were on morphine that exhibited “addiction seeking behaviors” were Not in chronic, intractable and/or high-impact chronic pain, then of course they would present with “addiction seeking behavior” because the morphine was getting them high!! And they were “seeking out their next fix”!! Just like the illicit street drug users and others who purposefully *abuse* prescription drugs (ie: who do not have chronic, intractable and/or high-impact chronic pain but instead use prescription and illicit drugs to *Get High* on!!). Because, as all of us #ChronicPainPatients know, opioids Do Not get us High!! They just ‘lessen’ our pain, a ‘Little bit’, thereby enabling us to be able to Get Out Of Bed and Shower, Brush Our Teeth and Hair, get dressed out of our PJ’s, *maybe* fix a meal– if we are able to Stand Long Enough to do so– and maybe, if our pain isn’t too bad, *just maybe* we’d be able to go to store and buy some food or pick up our medications without having to fear falling down in the store or passing out from the pain, or ‘pushing ourselves’ past the pain *just* to be able to get life-sustainung foods and medications– and Then we end up *paying* for our errand by our bodies Forcing us into bed for one to two days thereafter to recover!!– These are the types of things that every other non-Chronic Pain Patient takes for granted!!
    So, everyone, when you hear a story like this, stop and think, were their “genuine pigs” in pain? Or were they “normal”?
    Much love and prayers to all of my brothers and sisters of #ChronicIntractablePainPatients out there!

  10. David Israel June 13, 2019 at 12:34 am

    “Producing a medication for pain that is safe and effective while unlikely to be abused could save many of the tens of thousands of lives that are lost each year to opioid overdoses.” This would be great IF tens of thousands of pain patients were dying every year as this article states! However, the vast majority of deaths comes from heroin & illegap fentanyl, meaning they didn’t get it from a Dr, showing that your original hypothesis is flawed when you assume that all deaths are coming from a prescription pad.

  11. Milfred Bradway June 12, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    Will this new pain medication ZH853 be in liquid, chewable or crushable for people who have had the Roux En Y Gastric by pass surgery. We have malabsorption with medication especially extend time released.

    • Jessynaija June 18, 2019 at 1:24 pm

      Mildred, the ZH853, is it available in capsules?

  12. Robert K. Seylhouwer June 12, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    All the previous posts have summed it up beautifully….vets and civilians alike who took their medication as prescribed weren’t the problem. The people who want to use the meds to get high will find other means to do so, while compliant patients suffer. Those who became addicted ( as opposed to those who become naturally physically dependant ) will need emotional support which is much needed in too many vets who do not receive this combination of treatment. How about some REAL progress with the treatments that are available now. Research can continue in the meantime.

  13. Tiffany B June 12, 2019 at 3:18 pm

    I’d really like to know- How exactly do researchers know that the animals (“rats”) are in no pain, less pain, or the like? Many of us experience various levels of pain daily…various “types” of pain- i.e. burning, throbbing, aching, shooting etc. I’ve personally had days that a so called “level 8″ pain thats uncontrolled, continually aggravating cause more disruption in my ability to perform daily tasks in or outside my home and cancel any form of socializing events in any kind of manner be more problamatic in all aspects than a couple hours of say a ” level 10″ pain that could subside enough with OTC meds/ relaxation/ rest/ heat/ ice/ elevation/ compression etc…Sometimes I can even manage to push through some pain sometimes to complete a task but then suffer drastic consequences with exacerbated pain symptoms hours later even for next few days after with increased pain flares that have lasted 5-6 days. HOW can they say they KNOW or CAN SHOW/CAN PROVE pain is reduced or relieved for these animals at all???

    • Debra Wiggins June 15, 2019 at 7:31 am

      Tiffany they measure changes in behavior. Items such as tail flicks, feeding behavior, sleep patterns, activity levels and vocalizations are noted as indicators of pain or distress. Small rodents specially bred have been studied for countless generations and they produce new generations quickly and in large numbers.

  14. Felix DeQuess June 12, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    I love how the media now parrots acupuncture, yoga and chiropractic medicine as viable treatment for pain management. Repeating it over and over, even in print, does not make it so. Also, many of us who are on opioids have tried those things as well as many other approaches, including the other now parroted terms mindfulness, meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy.
    I’m hopeful for this new drug, however, I’m curious if it rips up one’s stomach like NSAIDS do when on them daily. If they could just find a way to make Toradol stomach friendly, what a wonderful discovery that would be.

  15. I. Leigh Mitchell June 12, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    Studies have shown that less than 5% of patients become addicted to opioids. Those that do often did so on a stolen prescription and moved onto stronger harder drugs. Millions of compliant chronic pain patients were cut off completely or forcefully tapered down in amount of medicine and are now either suffering and miserable at home or have committed suicide. The VA did the same thing many private physicians did and misread the CDC’s recommendations for non pain management doctors prescribing opioids for the first time. Consequently the results were people losing their pain medicine that they had been responsibly using, as well as being subjected to embarrassing pill counts & urine tests for drugs,

  16. SCOTT LANG June 12, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Time for VA Guinea Pig trials

  17. Richard A Lawhern PhD June 12, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    It is highly premature to suggest that a trial in RATS is in any sense a “breakthrough”. There are too many potential pitfalls in the protocols with animal models. The most that can be said for a trial of this sort is that it seems “suggestive” of an avenue deserving further research. What we may have here seems to be an example of self-promotion triumphing over science.

  18. Marty Creasman Forrest June 12, 2019 at 1:04 pm

    Just approve of MMJ for our Vets! ✌️

  19. Sandra McBee June 12, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Why weren’t side effects or cost mentioned? Why do doctors STILL take compliant patients off their opiates when FINALLY it’s common knowledge and medical and govt are admitting that chronic pain patients were NEVER the problem? And why the hell arent those who were kicked off, called back to restart their pain care? Why are we left still on the streets having to find and take illicit substances? And why does that alone prevent any future pain care with claims be doctors that ‘now you are no longer suitable for opiate treatment’? Really doc? I think now we are MORE suitable since we haven’t OD’d, and our dosage stayed stable and even without any monitoring, we didn’t die and stuck with just that one substance we found. By the way, it’s the very substance that this country originally used before morphine was created.

    • Jacques June 12, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      You haven’t figured out yet that they’d like to reduce the cost of taking care of aging boomers and are doing it any way they can?

  20. Robert Crandall June 12, 2019 at 11:56 am

    As usual the article failed to tell the truth. The VA mercilessly took every veteran with chronic pain off opiods without any care of what the policy would do to us. Then they insulted us further by giving us nsaids that do not work and cause gastrict disturbances as well as liver problems in people like me who have a damaged liver from chronic Hep C. Then because I have a doctor outside of the VA, they threatened my doctor that if he did not force taper all veterans that they would take action to take his license. I have CRPS AND CIDP and am paralyzed and in a wheelchair. I have had it with the strongarm tactics of the VA.

  21. Barbara Tabor June 12, 2019 at 10:44 am

    This may address acute pain or post-op pain, but assumes that pain will end. It does not account for chronic, intractable, or degenerative pain conditions.

  22. Ray June 12, 2019 at 3:15 am

    I am happy for this news but wonder how medical providers and researchers have z tendency to not even say patient or Veterans.
    are dyimng all over the country and it seems to me the VA cares only about some arbitrary number. You did not say that veterans with chronic pain are finding relief in some other form.
    Veterans all over the country are dying or worse killing themselves. We aren’t finding relief at the VA we just seek outside care and struggle to pay for it. I am now happy with my pain care because I pay for it myself with money I can’t afford to pay. The VA has helped me and I am thankful I just wish that someone could see all the veterans and their families who are suffering even as I write this.
    Veterans prescribed opioids by the VA were never the problem, but we sure have paid another high price.

  23. IDA WOLK June 12, 2019 at 3:12 am

    Ok, great and what do chronic pain pts do for the next 2 yrs while waiting for the trials. I’m WONDERING…Im a 62 yrs old. @Been thru many pain programs. It always ends up that I get a bit stronger and yet they still need to put me back on opioids. Recently I’ve tried gabapentin with horrible side effects. Im Currently on 5 mg Methadone down from 15 mg and 15 mg Percocet. That’s been Dcd for now. I’m curious. The Methadone does nothing for my low back pain…not even at 15 mg. Now it affects my heart. I’ve been on ibuprophen for 44 yrs so not much helping there anymore and Robaxin, same thing . I do get some relief but not like B4. So been force tapered down to being grossly undermedicated and in excruciating pain every day. I’m a Kaiser member so try to get someone who will help you and give a damned. Finding replacement for Opioids should have been the FIRST THING DONE B4 ripping meds out of the hands of those who actually needed it for the sake of those who abuse it. I’m tired of being a guinea pig when I and my MDs know very well the only med that will help RIGHT NOW is the opioids. So now I guess I may be put back on them for 2 yrs and then go through the agony of withdrawal YET AGAIN. This, in my opinion, is HORRIBLE HORRIBLE ABUSE!! PLEASE RESPOND, THANK YOU, IDA WOLK

  24. Donnalogan June 12, 2019 at 3:03 am

    You dont know what its like to have chronic pain some people have ms and suffering from cancer and back pain from age older people have to suffer because of young people abusing it bull crap that older people have to live in pain try liveing life in pain

  25. Era J Roberts June 12, 2019 at 1:41 am

    So the VA research can take up to 2 years before it may be prescribed to the Veterans? Good news I guess but what about NOW? What can you do for Veterans suffering in pain and debilating quality of life mentally and physically due to chronic pain where all the other hopeful treatments have failed? You took Veterans pain relief away from them and let them suffer like dogs in pain! All other resources do not relieve pain so that’s how we treat our Veterans? Let them. Continue with the pain for another 2 years? Come on people! Research shows the Veterans were not abusing their pain meds but they still cannot have their 4 to 6 hour Vicodin and get just enough relief to enjoy the outdoors with family. Suicide rates among our Veterans have risen due to their painful, debilitating lifestyle they are forced to deal with. So our people enter the Military with pride and joy and get honorably discharged due to injuries, etc then get a slap in the face by no pain relief from us so their remaining lives are pure hell! You guys talk about all these things coming to our Veterans sounds good but offers NO HOPE for the suffering Veterans now. I have a sister that lives every day, every minute of her life suffering greatly and it worries me one day may be too much for her and she may end her life. The life she has is not worth living but I would never let her know that is how I feel as I watch her and help her thru each day. It is an honor to serve your Country but you Country will not have the resources to care for you while you are suffering from your heroic actions while in the Military. To me, I see going into the Military a high risk of a really messed up life until the day you die due to the suffering one has when they come out of the Military.

  26. John Stewart June 12, 2019 at 1:05 am

    Not available now, more of a possible promise than reality, meanwhile. Ets have been yanked off of all pain meds and been prescribed black box NSAIDs, which are more likely to kill you than the opioid they replaced.

  27. John C. Stewart June 12, 2019 at 12:58 am

    How long before this is available, 5 to 10 years? The VAs so called Patient Centered care yanked every Vet off pain meds and replaced them with more dangerous black box labeled NSAIDS. More of the usual VA good PR nonsense.

    • Dan Mac June 12, 2019 at 8:54 am

      I agree. Doctors tell you about new drugs then NEVER put them out on the market. I’ve tried everything yoga acupuncture and other pain meds. Nothing works for me. Having chronic pain for pain for 15 years.
      Now I’m researching spinal cord stimulator. Which hopefully will help.
      Thanks VA for NOTHING

  28. Maggie King June 11, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Glad to hear that.
    I was cut off from my 12 years of compliant Pain Management treatment last year. The doctor retired early but no one will take us.
    Too bad many of us won’t be here in 6 or so years when meds come out

  29. Tom Edelman June 11, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    After trial how long will ZH853 take to be available?

  30. Nuoma911 June 11, 2019 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks for such a beautiful post, very informative and useful article

Comments are closed.

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